I received a paperback review copy of this book from the publisher. That has not influenced my feedback.
I was intrigued by the description of this book, by the author’s previous work, and by the fact that this volume of four of her stories includes twenty-four of her own black and white photographs, which illustrate and create an aesthetic dialogue with the content and the feel of the stories. I was also intrigued by the title and my curiosity was answered as soon as I read the opening quote in this slim but handsome volume: A piece of writing is never finished. You just surrender. (Carter Monroe). I love this quote because, as I write as well, I am familiar with the feeling that a story is never quite as good as it could be, and it is never totally finished. In my opinion, though, these stories are perfect as they are.
The four stories are very different, but the images and the writing style turn this book into a unique experience.
I’ll share a few comments about each individual story, but I’ll try to avoid spoilers.
“Cocteau’s Ransom”, written in the third person, is a story of a couple who believe they’ve found a way to make some money by kidnapping a dog, but they have made a mistake (an understandable one, for sure, but still…) A fun and humorous story (although it might upset animal lovers).
“The Vestige” has a touch of nostalgia (in fact, at first I thought it was a historical piece but I soon realised I was wrong), plenty of atmosphere, lovely characters, and it is also a sweet and gentle love (?) story that will enchant fans of the cinema experience and enthusiasts of old movies.
In “Return to Camp Bon Temps” we meet Martine, a girl who’s deeply traumatised due to something that happened last summer. The story, which is also narrated in the third person (all three first stories are), takes place in the summer camp where the members of her extended family meet every year, and each person has its own role to play. Martin, her father, is a larger than life character who seems to always get his own way, but things are not as they seem to be, and I loved the father-daughter relationship and their moment of truth.
“Margaux’s understudy”, narrated in the first person by a young woman who lands a somewhat odd first-job, has touches of the fairy and/or gothic tale (it made me think of Bluebeard), of old movies and movie stars of the golden era (Sunset Boulevard, for example); it includes fragments of diaries and quotes from plays; it is very atmospheric (and the photographs are gorgeous), and is a fairly whimsical but also touching love story and the story of an obsession. Oh, and one of its characters is a fabulous parrot called Ayo.
As I wrote this review I realised that if I had to come up with a possible theme that links all the stories, it would have to be “appearances can be deceptive”. In these stories, both characters and readers misjudge people and situations, and the twists and surprises come when we learn the truth.
These stories, mostly set in New Orleans, are perfect for reading during short breaks; they create an immersive atmosphere without going into excessive detail, and are ideal for people looking for an engaging interlude between long and demanding reads. I look forward to following this author’s career, and I’ll be sure to visit her website and learn more about her work as a photographer. A great collection.